My passion is reading vintage history books about Northeast Tennessee and its surrounding areas. One treasured volume was written in 1913 by Margaret W. Morley of the Houghton Mifflin Company. Here is a sample of her prose:

“The Blue Ridge: What mountains ever offered themselves to the sun so enchanting as the long curve of the Appalachian chain where it passes through Virginia and North Carolina down to Alabama, running all the way full Southwest? This battlement of heaven was not named by accident.

It was named “blue” became there was no other name for it. It is blue; tremendously, thrillingly blue; tenderly, evasively blue. And the sky that contains it is also entrancingly blue; even the storms do not make it gloomy. When they pass by, the sun breaks out even more radiantly.

A Typical Quaint Mountaineer Home

“A mountain home is generally well-filled with children, and the grandmother, is vastly proud of her numerous descendants, although she sometimes has difficulty in remembering their full names, or even the number of them.

“There are names like John, Mary and Tom, but there are fancy ones like Mossy Bell, Luna Geneva, Vallerie May, Luranie Carriebel, Pearlamina Alethy Ivadee and a thousand others. Oftentimes, the poorer the family, the more fanciful the children's names, as though this being the only inheritance the parents wished to make as affluent as possible.

“The principle recreation of the country for the people is visiting. They travel long distances, and the smallest cabin is never too small to welcome home married sons and daughters who have come with their families to stay a while with “mammy” and “pappy.”

“In the villages, there are the ordinary amusements of young people: parties, dancing, picnics, box suppers, where girls fill boxes with fried chicken, bread, and cake, and the boys purchase them. And of course, there is music, the violin, better known as a fiddle, and guitar being the most popular instruments.

“Country music, (also referred to as old-time music, is often heard in the cool of the evening when the day's work is done and all sit about the blazing logs in the fireplace. How pleasantly comes back to memory one such scene. The only light comes from the fireplace, and dark shadows steal about the room as the fire flickers.

“In the glare of the burning logs sits a youth with his violin, rendering with zest the compositions of a local celebrity: “Sourwood Mountain,” “Cotton-eyed Joe,” “The Huckleberry Bush,” “The Blue-eyed Girl,” “Old Uncle Joe,” “Sally Gooden” and “A Pot Full of Pie and an Oven Full of Puddin'.”

TheFamous Grandfather Mountain Profile of the Old Man

“The musician plays them with enthusiasm, one after the other. As he plays, young Jim sits in front of him, knee to knee and “beats straws.” The youngster cannot keep time without this unique assistance, which is rendered by means of a piece of broom-straw held between the fingers of the right hand and struck against one string at the neck of the violin, while the musician plays “his stuff” in the normal fashion.

“Jim also manages to beat time with his feet without disturbing the rhythmical “tang, tang” of the straw or distracting the fiddler. “Beating straws” seems to be confined to a section on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge.

“After the fiddle solo concludes, Jim dances the 'stag dance,' first retiring to put on his shoes, for though he says he can dance better without them, the “splinters of civilization” have to be considered. A dirt floor is the original and proper foundation for the dance.

“Since the family gets up with the sun or earlier, all soon retire to rest. The visitors go in the parlor where stands the best bed. There is a carpet on the floor and a round table in the middle of the room, which holds the lamp and as ornaments, a dozen oyster shells. oodnight folks for tomorrow is another day.”

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The words to the song, “The Death of Floyd Collins,” speak of a Kentucky mining tragedy that claimed the life of a young cave explorer on January 30, 1925. Andrew B. Jenkins, a blind Atlanta evangelist, composed the original song and Fiddlin' John Carson (Okeh Records) and Vernon Dalhart (Perfect Records) each recorded the song about the tragic mishap.

Floyd Collins (public domain)

Floyd Collins' family owned Crystal Cave in Central Kentucky. Although it was described as a very nice cave, it was too far off the trail to attract tourists and generate needed income. Instead, nearby Mammoth Cave was the major draw for sightseers. Floyd was determined to find an entrance from his property to Mammoth Cave. Nearby Sand Cave had always been described as a collection of smaller “nothing” caves that were bypassed by almost everyone.

Collins enlarged a hole in the corner of Sand Cave hoping to find a shorter route to Mammoth Cave. He became fluent in using his voice to sound out nearby regions. Many people believe that Floyd had located a new passageway in Sand Cove just prior to the accident.

Floyd Collins' Birth Place

Over time, Floyd Collins had gained the reputation of being a gifted caver (as cave explorers became known) in the country surrounding the longest cave system in the world. Decades later, explorers found items in the caves indicating that Floyd was indeed gifted. But further exploration that fateful day in early 1925 came to an abrupt halt.

The caver was leaving a dangerously unstable passage when a 27-pound rock came crashing down on his foot, trapping him. Although the rock was not that heavy, it became wedged in other rocks, which prevented it from being moved to free Collins.

Just 120 feet from the entrance and 60 feet underground, Floyd lay unable to move in a cold, dark tunnel. The night passed with no relief for him.

Okeh Record of the Tragedy, Sung by Fiddlin' John Carson

For more than two weeks, Floyd suffered in his tight passage, while above him a carnival atmosphere of restless people congregated, hoping for a miracle. Each day, frequent news accounts were being reported in the Louisville, KY newspaper first-hand by a brave reporter who navigated the unstable cave passage, dropping food to Floyd, talking with him and even attempting to free him. But his noble efforts were to no avail.

Even today, Floyd Collins' sad drama can be found in old newspapers and library microfilms. The story was first reported as a minor mishap with full expectations that Collins would be freed within hours. That did not happen; the story worsened until it dominated front page news across the country and even abroad for two weeks, which included the Johnson City Press-Chronicle. Everybody become aware of Floyd Collins' quandary.

Family members and his fellow cavers tried to free him. When it became clear that his rescue would not be easy, his brother Homer spent nights in the cave with him to offer him moral support.

Despite efforts by numerous miners, the National Guard and the Red Cross, all attempts at rescue failed, and the crowd grew outside the cave as a media circus ensued. Even after all the attention, Floyd still lay hopelessly trapped and time was quickly running out.

Sign at the Site Where Floyd Collins Died 

Seventeen days after Floyd had entered the cave, a shaft finally reached him, but it was too late. Doctors believed he had died three days prior. The inevitable occurred sometime around the 15th day when, sadly, Floyd's voice was stilled forever.

Authorities decided that it was too dangerous to remove the body and left it where it lay. Some 80 days later, Floyd's brother, Homer, raised enough money to exhume him and give him a decent burial. Later, Crystal Cave was sold and Floyd's body was initially put in a glass topped coffin at the entrance to it. Later after several bizarre events occurred, he received a proper burial.

Today, a marker still stands at the cave entrance as a memorial to a brave man who was trapped alive for over two weeks and where he breathed his final tortured breath.

(Thanks to Alan Bridwell for assisting with this article.)

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A spring 1912 Comet article addressed the reason why area East Tennessee farmers were poor. The piece was addressed to Mr. Tennessee Farmer: “The reason why this occurs is always a vital question, so I stopped beside the road, let my old mare browse at some nearby sedge grass while I figured it out. Well, I figured it out and here is my explanation.

“The average Tennessee farmer gets up early in the morning after being aroused by the alarm of a Connecticut clock. Without haste, he buttons his Chicago suspenders to his Detroit overalls, puts on a pair of cowhide shoes made in Ohio and washes in a Pittsburgh tin basin.

Mr. Farmer “uses Cincinnati soap and dries on a cotton towel made in New Hampshire; sits down to a Grand Rapids table; eats hot biscuits made with western flour, Kansas City bacon and Indiana grits that have been fried in Omaha lard.

There's more. “He cooks on a St. Louis stove, buys Irish potatoes grown in Michigan and canned fruits put up in California that have been seasoned with Rhode Island spices. He claps on his old wool hat made in Philadelphia, harnesses his Missouri mule that has been fed on Iowa corn, with New York harness. He plows his farm, covered by a Massachusetts mortgage, with an Indiana plow.

I am not through. “He plows his farm, covered by a Massachusetts mortgage, with an Indiana plow. At night he crawls under a New Jersey blanket and is kept awake by a Tennessee hound dog, the only home product on the place, and wonders why he stays so poor. The answer is quite simple.

“The moral to this story is to patronize home industries. Your main focus should be to spend your money where it will give you a market for what you grow and thus make money and increase the value of your farm. This is public spirit at its best and the highest form of patriotism.”

Royal Baking Power Ad from 1912

On another note, this same farmer sits down to read the rest of his local newspaper. He glances over what appears to be an article that quickly transitions into an advertisement: “Facts and Fiction – Experiences of Johnson City, Citizens Are Easily Proven to Be Factual.” The most superficial investigation, he says, will prove that the following statement from a resident of Johnson City is true.

“Read it and compare evidence from Johnson City people with testimony from strangers living so far away that you cannot investigate the facts of the case. Many more citizens of Johnson City will endorse Doans Kidney Pills:

“William H. Hodges, 108 E. Millard St., Johnson City, Tennessee was quoted in the newspaper as saying: “I still recommend Doan's Kidney Pills and I am pleased to confirm all I said about them some years ago when I publicly told of my experience.”

“The cure I received at that time has been permanent. I believe that excessive standing was the root cause of my kidney trouble. I suffered from a dull pain across the small of my back and I could not rest well at night, as no position seemed comfortable to me.

“I saw Doan's Kidney Pills advertised and, thinking they might help me, got a supply from the Whitehouse Drug Co. They proved to be just what I needed and it took them only a short time to drive away my kidney complaint.”

“For sale by all dealers. Price 30 cents. Foster-Milburn Company, Buffalo, New York, Sole agents for the United States. Remember the name Doan's and take no other.”

Note: Whitehouse Drug Co. was located at 211 E. Main Street in 1912. (site later became the Glamor Shop.) The drugstore offered “pure drugs, soda water, toilet articles, rubber goods, trusses, cameras and supplies.” Their logo was “Registered Druggists – Always on the Job.”

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On March 15, 1884, Nathaniel C.T. Love published the first issue of the Comet newspaper in Johnson City, Tennessee. Attorneys Robert Burrow and Robert L. Taylor (later Tennessee governors) served as the newspaper’s editors. The paper’s salutatory piece affirmed its perspective: “In politics, we are democratic; in religion, we are orthodox.” At the time of the Comet’s first issue, the town had just one other newspaper, the politically independent Enterprise, established the previous year.

By July 1884, editorial control at the Comet had passed to Taylor and C.J. St. John, Jr. Just under a year later, an announcement was made that Cyrus “Cy” H. Lyle and Robert Burrow had purchased the paper, but Taylor would remain as editor.

The Comet covered political issues and local affairs and offered entertaining short stories and poems. In a town served by two railroad lines (later three), the paper unsurprisingly devoted much column space to train schedules and railroad news.

The Comet's Letterhead

On political issues, Taylor’s staunch support of the Democratic Party and his strong political ideology were clearly apparent. In the October issue before the 1884 presidential election, the Comet, which supported Grover Cleveland for president, featured a front-page story that included a sketched portrait of Taylor.

The article complimented Taylor’s speech condemning the Republican Party and sang his praises as a presidential elector. Taylor later ran for governor of Tennessee against his brother, Republican Alfred A. Taylor. This occasionally heated, but mostly cordial race later became known as the “War of the Roses.” Bob won the race and served as governor from 1887 to 1891 and again between 1897 and 1899.

In 1891, Robert Burrow retired from the Comet when the partnership between him and Lyle was dissolved, leaving Lyle as the sole proprietor. In the April 9, 1891 issue, Lyle announced his intention to publish the Daily Comet, beginning the following week.

The Daily Comet was “a morning paper with full Associated Press Service.” He continued to publish the weekly every Thursday. However, a couple of years later an article in the June 29, 1893 issue of the weekly Comet, announced that the daily would cease publication, declaring that, “The Daily Comet is simply off its orbit” and that “Publishing a daily paper in Johnson City is like running a free lunch counter in Washington, DC. It is well patronized, but not profitable.”

To compensate for the closure of the daily paper, the weekly one was increased to eight pages. An elaborately illustrated masthead, which is what people generally remember about it, was introduced featuring a comet descending over industrial and rural landscapes with a train at the center, pulling a car labeled “progress.”

The weekly Comet built up a large circulation in its first decade. By 1895, the paper had 1,000 active subscribers in a town whose total population was approximately 4,000.

Over the first decade, the Comet employed inventive means to increase subscriptions. In 1885, the paper ran a promotion offering new and renewing subscribers the chance to win one of the several prizes such as a silver watch, a sewing machine, and the grand prize, a parlor organ from the Chicago Cottage Organ Company. An ornate illustration of the organ accompanied several of the promotional announcements.

The Comet remained in publication at least through 1918, but surprisingly the exact date of its demise apparently was never recorded.

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In September 1899, reports circulated about the discovery of caves in the mountains of Claiborne County, located about 100 miles from Johnson City. Reportedly, the caves, if true, would rival the famous Mammoth Cave of Kentucky or the Luray Caverns in Virginia.

Map of the State of Tennessee Showing the Three Divisions of the State. Claibourne County Is In East Tennessee at the top. See Asterisk.

It had been known for many years that a cave existed in the mountains and the residents of that county developed a superstitious awe of the place and would rarely venture into the locality, even in broad daylight, owing to the peculiar wind which issued from the narrow mouth of the caverns.

During that era, Mr. James Housely, owner of the lands on which the caves were located, organized an exploration party. Guides were obtained by the owner and preparations made for a thorough examination of the area. Upon reaching the mouth of the cave that was located in a deep mountain gorge several miles from any residence, it was found that the stories told by the natives appeared to be accurate.

The opening was small, barely large enough to admit a normal sized person. From it blew a constant strong current of warm air with sufficient force to cause a handkerchief or other light substance to flutter in the breeze. The natives once stated that as soon as cold weather set in and throughout the winter, the current was reversed and was drawn into the cave with sufficient force to suck in dried leaves and other forest debris that came within its radius.

Upon entering the cave, the party encountered a narrow passageway, extending into the heart of the mountain for several hundred feet. At the end of this passage, the cave suddenly widened into an immense chamber, the end of which could not be seen with the light of the torches carried by members of the party. The chamber had a level, dry floor and from it hundreds of passages branched off.

Through one of these passages blew a strong current of air. This option was selected for further exploration. It sloped downward and was pursued over a half mile. Suddenly, a peculiar organ-like roaring and ringing began to be heard, causing the explorers to panic. The guides insisted on turning back, but the owner of the property pushed on for half a mile farther, with the noise constantly swelling in volume. Suddenly, another immense chamber was found at the end of which a gigantic formation of stalactites and stalagmites was found.

Through these rushed a current of air, producing the peculiar music which had frightened the guides and caused the whole party considerable wonderment. The explorations were not continued beyond this second large chamber, but it became evident that the caves were immerse, and plans were made to systematically explore them as soon as possible.

A series of similar caves had previously been partly explored a number of years prior in Cumberland County in a deep mountain gorge, known by locals as “The Gulf.” The natives shunned this locality like they did in Claiborne County and no one would reside near the caves for any quantity of money.

In the Cumberland County caves, there were three separate entrances. At two of them, the same peculiar currents of air were noticed, one of them being warm and balmy and the other strangely felt as if it came from a frozen subterranean lake. Inside two of the caves, which were penetrated for several miles, were found immense stalagmites and stalactites, while through another a large subterranean river flowed.

This same stream came out the other side of the Cumberland plateau in White County, where it was known as the Caney Fork of the Cumberland River and was deep enough for navigation within a few miles from the point at which it issued from the mountain.

That was in 1899. If any of my readers can furnish more recent information about these caves, I would appreciate hearing from you.

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Today's column is an 11-year cornucopia of “newsy news,” from around the state, ranging from July 1874 to January 1885. Several items deal with the latest newspapers coming to the area and the status of railroad projects.”

July 1874: “Ex-president (Andrew) Johnson, Gov. McMullin, Mr. C. S. Bekem of Abingdon and Mr. Peltier of the Johnson City Journal were all in Bristol last Thursday.” (Note: The former president would die in July one year later in Elizabethton, TN.)

July 1874: “Mr. J. W. Peltier was again in town and says he has achieved success in getting up a subscription list for his new paper, known as The Johnson City Times.”

July 1874: “Gale's School in Blountville closed with entertainment last Friday evening. The concert was accompanied with charades with all of the pupils participating. The admission fee was ten cents and the highest degree of satisfaction was given. We are glad to learn that the school is large and is doing well. Prof. Gale is one of the best teachers in the country.”

July 1874: “The citizens of Johnson City have made a purse and have purchased a complete outfit for a newspaper to be edited and conducted by Mr. Peltier, lately of the Jonesboro Echo. The power press, lately used in the office of the Knoxville Chronicle, has been purchased and has already been set up in the office of the 'Peoples Advocate' at Johnson City, and we presume that the first number of the paper will appear within a few weeks. We are gratified that the people of that prosperous and very pleasant town are to have a paper.”

Sept. 1874: “The Johnson City Times is edited by Mr. Peltier. It is produced on the “patent outside” plan (not printed locally but obtained from another publisher who furnishes the same general paper to other cities.). It presents a neat appearance and is conservative in politics. We hope it will have an abundant appetite for its work and abundant success at it.”

Area Newspaper Advertisement Music Emporium in Knoxville, Tennessee

Sept. 1874: “Austin's Springs (a new summer resort, this being the second season since commencing the enterprise here) is situated on a high height perch overlooking the beautiful Watauga River, a point 3.5 miles below Carter's Station, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad and kept by the Austin Bros., who strive to make it a place of genuine comfort and pleasure for those who stop with them for rest and recreation.”

Aug. 1876: “Mr. J.W. Peltier who has been known in connection with the Jonesboro Echo, the Johnson City Times and the Clinton (Tennessee) Tribune has issued a prospectus for an evening paper to appear soon on the Tennessee side of Bristol. In addition, he plans to produce an eight-page weekly, which he says will strive to become the leading organ of the Democratic Party in the First Congressional District. Peltier has exhibited more nerve in this respect than we (The Bristol News) possess and it is now up to Bristol to show whether it will support such an enterprise. We wish to satisfy and fulfill the hopes of Mr. Peltier.”

July 1874: “Those attending the Bristol Fair that year were Mr. C.X. Mathews of the Wytheville Enterprise, Maj. W.P. Elliott of the Press and Herald, C.C.A. Heermans of the Virginia People, George W. Ward of the Abingdon Virginian, J.W. Peltier of the Johnson City Times and M. S. Mahoney of the Jonesboro Herald and Tribune.”

Jan. 1885: “A number of railway projects are being initiated. A survey of the proposed line from Gaffney City, South Carolina, via Rutherfordton, Marion and Bakersville to Johnson City, Tennessee has been completed as far as Rutherfordton and is progressing towards Marion.”

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The Comet, an early newspaper of Johnson City, occasionally included a column titled, “This and That,” aptly named because of its unusual subject matter and curious wording.

One 1894 winter edition offered several diverse entries. The vintage newspaper received news that a nameless Johnson City voter had exchanged his registration certificate for anything he could get for it. The average going price on the street was five dollars. While this was a common practice for those individuals desiring to buy votes to swing the general election, it was generally frowned upon and considered a dreadful practice by most townspeople.

Since Easter was just around the corner, the ever-busy hen would, consequently, have to redouble her efforts to satisfy the public demand for eggs. With good weather and plenty of feed, the newspaper saw no reason why the faithful foul couldn't meet the challenge without “having egg on its face.”

On another matter, The Comet launched unflattering comments about Hotel Carlisle (once located at the southwest corner of E. Main and Division streets, which, according to the paper, “remained where it was built and was in the same condition as then – empty.” The structure later became the Franklin Apartments)

Although reports, it said, were published some time ago that it would be opened in grand style in the near future by an Atlanta businessman, the paper saw and heard nothing additional to verify the reports. The streetcars still ran a block shy of the hotel and the Atlanta man never showed up.

In actuality, the streetcar would never pass by the hotel. Instead, it turned a block away at E. Main north onto Roan, then east toward Carnegie.

On another matter, the Taylor Brothers, furniture store owners, graciously allowed patrons to come into their business establishment and rest in their comfortable chairs. During cold weather months, they could also enjoy the warmth provided by a cozy wood stove. This practice was halted for a period of time after the business experienced a serious fire.

Two Advertisements from the 1894 Comet

During the blaze, when confusion had reached its highest pitch, Bob Burrow of The Comet, was forced to his knees, in a praying position, by the forceful hose in the hands of excited firemen. He remained in that position for a while and when he finally regained his footing, he yelled something to Mr. Gump, who was executing a similar jig on the street also trying to maintain control of his pressurized hose. The short scuffles offered a brief chuckle to an otherwise serious event. 

The store manager, George Ferguson, wittingly noted that the fire was made even warmer by the owners' hospitality. They promised that once repairs to the store were completed, the meetings around the hot stove would resume and continue with unabated interest in its new quarters with one notable exception: No chestnuts (old or stale jokes) were allowed to be spoken; only new topics were acceptable.

1894 advertisement  for the Johnson City Steam Laundry “Called for and Delivered”

The Comet continued its desultory banter by saying, “Take to heart, ye crucifiers of horseflesh. Treat that faithful animal (the horse) kindly and with the consideration due its faithfulness. The steed can't talk and tell you, but he tries by signs to inform you that he has put his strength to its utmost to perform his duty. Considering this fact, it is a great pity that he doesn't kick your head off when you wantonly beat and abuse him.”

The newspaper next commented on the weather: “Last Sunday, the 4th, was by far the prettiest day seen in this section since last spring. Notwithstanding, March was usually blustery. Up to that date, no evidence of uncommonly windy weather had been noted. The month was still in its infancy and there was no telling how the latter part would supply.

The weather forecast was a bit prophetic: “For on that day, the tail end of the month reached around and dealt its forepart a blow that came near lifting the hair.” 

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In March 1917, Ms. Geneva Conway, Specialist in Home Economics at the University of Tennessee, penned an article for a Johnson City newspaper titled, “Mrs. Housewife, Have You Tried These?”

“Discarded Safety Razor Blades: They are good for cutting threads when quilting, as they are light, sharp and most people have them.

“A Good Duster: Take equal parts of coal oil and water. Wet and wring out the cloth and hang it up until nearly dry, and use as a dust cloth.

“When Making Fires: Place several corn cobs in a tomato can which contains coal oil and let it bake overnight. The corn cobs added to the wood and paper will insure a quick fire.

“When Washing Flannels: Do not let them lie very long in water and do not rub soap on them. Make suds in the water, wash quickly, press gently, but do not wring out. Shake and place them where they will not stretch and will dry quickly.

“Saving Time on Seams: In making garments, if the raw seam is unsightly, try sewing it up in the smallest hemmer. This makes a very neat finish and is much more quickly done than French felling and saves time in stitching.

“When Laying a Rag Carpet: Tack one edge down to the floor. Get a narrow piece of plank three or four inches wide and seven or eight feet long; drive three or four nails through one end. Catch the nail points near the edge of the carpet and push it to the right place, and tack. This will help in stretching.

“When Laying a Carpet: Use thick layers of newspaper under the carpet for a padding. Papers make a smooth, even surface and will not hurt the carpet as does the rough floor. Also, dust catches on top of them. When the carpet is taken up, if you carry out the papers carefully little, if any dust will remain on the floor. Moths will not cut carpets over newspapers, because they dislike printers' ink.”

In addition to the remarks from Ms. Conway to the ladies came these comments in the same publication directed to farmers:

 “Advise for Feeding Livestock: No matter how well-bred an animal is, he will never make a high-class critter unless he is well-fed from the beginning. A plain-bred animal well nourished, oftentimes develops into something good.

Four Advertisements from March 1917, Same Timeframe as the Article

“However, many young animals are ruined because their owners are more interested in saving feed than developing them.

“All of our lands need manure, more or less, and no farmer can obtain more manure than' he can use.

“Livestock pays dividends. This can be seen on the farms of a nearby state by the following figures secured from 81 farms in one community. They were not selected farms, but instead taken as they lay along the road.

“These farms were divided into three groups according to the number of livestock grazing on it: 1. One-third of the farms were found to have over 20 head of cattle, 2. One-third had between 12 and 20 head each; and 3. One-third had less than 12 head.

“The heavier stocked farms returned a profit for the year of $774 more than those with the small amount of livestock.

“Another community selected at random showed nearly the same  proportion. Live stock furnishes a way to increase the volume of farm business without increasing the farm area. Through livestock, much of the poorer grades of feed may be utilized to better advantage than by selling it.

In fact, much roughage that is ordinarily wasted can be made to give good returns. The manure obtained is essential in maintaining soil fertility.”

The newspaper's parting words were, “The above figures offer farmers some food for thought. If you are thinking of purchasing additional land, consider putting your money into more live stock for the land you already own.”

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In earlier times, some newspapers gave numerous news briefs of small communities from around the East Tennessee area, such as Watauga, Austin's Springs, Flourville, Unaka Springs, Brush Creek, Hampton, Spurgin and numerous others.

According to History of Washington County, Tennessee (Joyce and W. Eugene Cox, The Overmountain Press, 2001), John R. Spurgin was appointed postmaster of the little community of Spurgin on July 24, 1889. The next and last individual to occupy the office was Frederick W. DeVault, who took over it on February 4, 1893. The post office was discontinued and its papers moved to Jonesborough on November 30, 1900. 

A March 7, 1895 newspaper blurb titled “Spurgin”  offered delightful as well as depressing news about the little community:

“Rev. Moore preached at Fordtown last Sunday. Millis Johnson, a local resident about 13 years of age, died Saturday, February 23, and was buried at Buffalo Ridge Cemetery (located on a hill along Hales Chapel Road) on Monday. A brother and sister of this boy are sick and their recovery is rather doubtful.

“William Dillow, a highly respected citizen, died last Friday evening and was buried at Fordtown on Sunday. His daughter-in-law, Mrs. Alex Dillow, is also ailing and her death is expected at almost any time.

“Miss Inez Martin, who is attending school at Jonesboro, came home last Friday evening on a visit and to take part in the Demorest Oratorical Contest (research this item) at Hale's Chapel Church. She returned to school Monday. Miss Ina Yoakley and Miss Chase were guests of Miss Ollie DeVault on Monday.

“Despite inclement weather, the contest, which took place at the church last Friday evening, was a complete success. There were eight contestants: Misses Hassie Grisham, Laura Hale, Inez Martin, Oilie DeVault, and Messrs. Charley Gray, E. Crouch, Willie Grisham and Gentry Hodges.

“There was a good sized audience present, and the speakers acquitted themselves with honor. The committee, consisting of Messrs Steele, Murry and Maden, decided that the popular assistant postmaster of Spurgin, Miss Ollie C. DeVault, was entitled to the prize, which consisted of a handsome silver medal, which, after a few well-selected words, was presented to Miss DeVault by S.R. Keebler.

“Monday night, at the residence of M.V. Adams, Joseph W. Dove, Esq. was married to Mrs. Sarah Adams with S.H. Gray, Esq., officiating.

“The wedding came off at a rather late hour, owing to the fact that William Hodges, who went to town after the license, came back on a different road than Squire Dove was expecting. He stood beside the road in the cold for about two hours before Mr. Hodges removed him from his watch and brought him inside to the fireplace to thaw out.

“After this, all went well, and it is to be hoped the joy deferred will be only the better appreciated. That a life of happiness and prosperity may be their lot is the wish of everyone on March 5, 1895.”

This report was prepared by someone using the name,  “Tattler,” which appeared in other similar stories. Another reference to Mr. Spurgin during that same time frame stated:

“John R. Spurgin, our bachelor, still talks optimistically of finding someone to love and care for him when he gets old. It is hoped that Mr. Spurgin will yet leave a memorial of his philanthropy in erecting an observatory on his great hill. That way pleasure seekers may whittle away a few leisure hours watching the mogul engines on the 3-C's railroad (which unfortunately went bankrupt) wind the tortuous track for four miles, drawing trains of trade and travel from and to the great coal fields of Johnson City.

Tattler's concluding words were “Here at Spurgin's Rest, we may behold the majestic eddies of the Holston River and look for the steamboats, which may never come further than the ancient 'burg' of Kingsport.” 

An Old Advertisement from March 1895, Same Date as the Article

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In May 1910, Harry W. Brimer, a reader of the Washington (DC) Herald, wrote an editorial to the newspaper commencing with these words: “I would like to say a word about the State of Tennessee that, while great and prosperous, has not received the public recognition to which she is dually entitled.”

Harry went on to provide interesting facts about the Volunteer State, which I paraphrased and quoted:

The Tennessee State Flag with Three Stars Representing the Three Main Sections of the State

According to Brimer, the east portion of what once belonged to North Carolina briefly became known as the State of Franklin. “An old-time log cabin now standing at Greeneville, Tennessee,” he said, “was used as the first capitol of the State of Franklin. The last session of the Franklin assembly met here in September 1787.”

Brimer noted that Tennessee is 432 miles in length, 109 miles in breadth and covers an area 45,050 square miles. She is bounded on the north by Kentucky and Virginia; on the east by North Carolina; on the south by Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi; and on the west by Arkansas and Missouri.

Thus, she touches eight other states and with the exception of Missouri, no other state has so many on her borders. She has had four capitals, which are Knoxville, Murfreesboro, Kingston and Nashville, the present one.

In Middle Tennessee, beyond the river valley lies a magnificent plain of some 5450 square miles which is filled with grain cotton and tobacco fields

Tennessee also contains the largest red cedar forests in America. East of this rich garden is the great Cumberland Plateau, which rises to the stately height of 1000 feet above the Tennessee, a river which twice crosses the State of the name she gloriously bears.

The Cumberland Plateau displays wealth in coal and limestone. Among the Cumberland Mountains are caverns, which are many miles long, through which flow powerful underground streams. The bones of extinct animals are to be found here also.

The highest peak to be found in the State is Clingmans Dome, which is 6,660 feet high. The leading rivers of the State, besides the Tennessee, are the Cumberland, the Holston, the French Broad and the Hatchie (also referred to as the Big Hatchie River and Arteguet River).

The leading products are corn, tobacco, hay, wheat, cotton, oats and potatoes. In 1889, Tennessee stood fifth among the states in tobacco, which manufactures amounts of over $75 million yearly. Cotton, wool, iron and steel, cottonseed, oil, lumber and leather are also present.

Harry further avowed: “The first railroad was the Memphis Railroad chartered in 1831 when there was only 50 miles in the country. Hernando de Soto was probably the first white man to tread upon the soil of this my native state. Tennessee seceded from the Union on June 8, 1861 and was readmitted in l866.”

Many of the hardest fought engagements of the Civil War took place on her rich soil. In 1900, the attendance at public schools was 485,393, of which 383,643 were white children and 100,750 were black.

“The population of the territory separated from North Carolina and which now forms a large part of the State of Tennessee. In July 1791, it was 36,043. In the last census taken, her population was 2,020,616.

“The census that is being taken shows an enormous increase. Tennessee is wealthy and thriving. She now stands among the foremost of her sister States.”

A 1905 SHHS Student Sketched the State Flag for the Student Annual, The Echo

 A hardy “Thank You” to the memory of Mr. Brimer for sharing with us some interesting facts from 1910 about our favorite state- Tennessee. 

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